"What do you call a Black man who's a MA, a BS, a PhD, a JD? I'll tell you what the White man calls him; he calls him a Nigger."
I've been largely silent about the Trayvon case over the past year and a half, partly because of my focus here and elsewhere on what I consider to be Sexual Politics issues, and partly because I wanted to hold my fire until after the court has had its say. Its been four days since then, and I'm still not quite sure how to put my thoughts and feelings into words...so please pardon me if I ramble around a bit.
As is so often the case, major public events like celebrated court trials are so much more than a mere matter of fact-finding, assigning blame, and punishing the guilty (or NOT, this time around); they are, in a very real, profound sense, National Rorshach Tests, administered to the public at large, with the results being just as variegated, and just as profound. In so many ways, all of us were on trial; the American Project was on trial...
...and we all were found guilty.
That line above will no doubt upset, even anger my fellow African American Brothas and Sistas, for appearing to blame the victim - Trayvon in particular, and Black America more generally; but the harsh, bitter truth that, especially if you're Black, you know all too well - that we've got some major housekeeping to do if we're to have any hope of making things better. We can be pissed off that Zimmerman walked, but every pair of Black eyes reading this right now knows that there are scores of murdered Black Men across this country whose killers - who are overwhelmingly Black themselves - are walking free as the proverbial bird as I type and as you read these words. And in our communities, no less. In some cases - many more than we would like to admit to ourselves, and especially within earshot of Whites - *we know who the killers are*. In no way am I saying any of this is cool, and I for one am certainly not happy with the verdict - but if nothing else, Trayvon's family can say that they had their day in court. There are arguably tens of thousands of Black Men in their graves, and the families they've left behind, who cannot.
Some have voiced their disgust at what they saw as an execution of a Old Jedi Mindtrick, turning the trial of George Zimmerman into a trial of Trayvon Martin - every nook and cranny of the latter's life turned inside-out, examined, scrutinized, held up for ridicule, and ultimately taken into account to explain how and why Trayvon wound up on a coroner's slab. In the minds of Zimmerman's defenders - of which there are arguably legion - Trayvon was on a collision course with the prison yard, the graveyard, or both.
And while, yes, one could certainly make an argument for how all those factoids about Trayvon's life - his apparent fondness for the nowadays immensely popular Southern iteration of Gangsta Rap music and lifestyle, his interest in firearms, his evident facility for close-quarters combat and his troubles in school - were techinically irrelevant to the case, in so many ways, again, ways that we as Black people may not want to publically admit, it was so painfully relevant. Taken together, Trayvon's activities do not have the appearance of an upstanding citizen. Look, it's time to take the idea of examining - and redefining - Black Masculinity, seriously, because far too many Black Men and boys, see "being a Man" through the very narrow - and often dangerous, if not deadly - prism that Trayvon did. Many reading this will rightly wonder aloud whether Trayvon looking and acting closer to the fictional Carlton or Urkel would have made a difference in the overall scheme of things, and they would have a point for reasons I'll explain below; but I maintain, that it wouldn't hurt. Simply put, and if there can be any good that comes out of this horrible ordeal, it's that Trayvon's life is a grand opportunity for Black Men to begin a long and brutally honest conversation, among ourselves, about how we see ourselves as Black Men, and whether we have any role or say at all in how others see us as well. As far as I am concerned, as a lifelong Brotha, Trayvon will have truly died in vain if we, once again, never seem to miss an opportunity, to miss an opportunity.
And for my White friends out there, don't get too happy; as many of you must know by now, I've long been known to be an equal opportunity offender.
I don't care what the law says. I, as a Black Man, have very deep and abiding problems with the idea of any White Man thinking that he's Judge Dredd - that he can, on the basis of how I look/act *to him*, follow me around, invade my personal space, question, possibly detain and even kill me, with impunity. Like Zimmerman, I too participated in a neighborhood town watch, at a time when not only was my neighborhood experiencing all manner of crime from car break-ins to prostitution, drugs dealing, rape and homicide, but I got involved in said town watch as a direct result of Ms. Brown Sugah and I being accosted by three thugs on the evening of Valentine's Day (I fended all three off unarmed). I didn't need a gun to deal with them that night, and I didn't need one to make my neighborhood safer to the tune of a 50% reduction in crime across the board in the year since my joining the town watch. My training in town watch is nothing Zimmerman did; as far as I am concerned, he is a vigilante, a loose cannon and creates as many problems he has purportedly set out to solve. And that is putting it mildly.
Yeah, yeah, I know you don't want to hear it, but you're gonna - Black Men have been treated like this long before the phrase, "Black on Black crime" became a household word - and I for one, have no intention of seeing any of you turning the clock back. (Please be advised that I can and will defend me and mine, and that any attempts to "Zimmerman" me will not end well...for you. Best you just let me go about my business. Doing so will add years to your life.)
Nor am I cool with all the supposedly "progressive" Whites, who sat and continue to sit idly by, while their more strident brethren whoop and holler in congratulatory glee that Zimmerman walked. Your flowery asides to quasi-metaphysical claptrap do not impress me, your concern troll-like "admonitions" of how "hate" and "racism" "ain't just a White thing" do not mollify me, and your overall silence and patent refusal to openly and vocally chin-check your knuckledragging brothers and sisters only heightens my distrust in the whole lot of you. Now I truly understand what my dad and grand dad meant, when they said that in the South, a (Black) Man always knew where he stood. Sometimes life grants us little moments of clarity, and the events of the past few days have been most clarifying indeed.
Lastly, a personal account.
A few years back, Ms. Brown Sugah and I were at the mall; it was around X-mas time, and I hadn't worn a hat that day. It was very cold, and she insisted that I wear one lest I catch a cold. I spent the better part of an hour trying to find a skullie that didn't make me appear as one of the local knuckleheads around the way. Despite my best attempts, it didn't work.
Some months later, while waiting for my order of General Tso's Chicken at the neighborhood Chinese takeout joint, I come *this* close to winding up like Amadou Diallo because half a dozen police cars respond to a call of a Black male giving the Asian shop owners a hard time. The Black male in question was there alright, someone I'd never seen before or since, didn't know, didn't even know his name, and appeared nothing like me, especially in terms of dress - he was unkempt, pants sagging, skullie on cockeyed, scruffy-looking, you name it; I, looking neat and spiffy.
And yet, when the cops came, both of us got slammed against the wall, and when I tried to throw the police off me and explain that they got the wrong guy, guns were drawn - about a dozen of them. Forced to take low, I relented, and was released an hour later. No apology. No "we made a mistake".
At the time, I was living in the NYC area, but I've experienced this kind of treatment on the part of White police in every area I've lived, worked or visited. I've been harassed by them coming from/going to the job, wearing work blue-Dickies and Timberland boots or business-casual shoes, slacks and button-down shirtsleeves; I've been hasseled by the (White) cops coming from the movies; I've been given the business by (White) cops while/for simply taking a drive in the suburbs (which got so bad I decided to get rid of my car, and I'm not the only Brotha who's done this).
After looking at the ways "respectable" Black Men, like Obama and Skip Gates, are treated by Whites, and coupled with my own extenisive experience along these lines, I've come to the conclusion that no matter *what* Black Men do, in the eyes of Whites, we're suspect. And I don't know what to make of that.
What I do know, is this: everytime I walk outside my door and step into the wider world, I do so with the sober realization that there is a better than average chance that I may not make it back. Everytime I do make it back home, be it from a long distance trip many hundreds of miles away or be it from a trip to the Papi Store around the corner, I give thanks for a small victory - because, to paraphrase Malone from The Untouchables, I made it home alive.
Trayvon, and thousands of other Brothas, cannot say that.
Now adjourn your arses...